West Pac- Again!

Gerald Decker, Founder, President

Gerald Decker

November 1, 1969, aboard the U. S. S. Point Defiance (LSD-31), we left Long Beach, California at 1100 for my second tour to Westpac (Western Pacific-euphemism in those days for going to Vietnam.) The Tripoli (LPD-10) and the Ogden (LPD-3) were in formation with us to our first stop in Guam.

This was a new duty station and a new crew. My last ship had been decommissioned in Sept. 1969 in San Diego after months of very long days preparing the ship for the mothball fleet. Except for some small excursions for drills and training, I had not been to sea since returning from my first tour in Dec. 1968.

We had only been at sea for a few days when we hit some pretty bad weather. I took the helm. What an awaking that was. I messed up pretty bad until I got the feel of the wheel, the weather, and the new officers-many of whom were just learning their job as well.

I had been a horrible math student in school but now I am learning celestial navigation. If it had not been for the math involved, I think I would have caught on much quicker. (55 years after high school graduation, I still hold the record for the lowest math scores in the state of Alabama.) Actually, it didn’t take me long because my leading Petty Officer, “Barney” Barnhart, was a natural-born teacher.

After two weeks we were well into the lower latitudes and the temperatures inside and outside were getting increasingly warmer. Of course, the air conditioner went out. It made sleeping below decks in a small room with 45 other guys very uncomfortable. Many nights we slept top side, under the stars. Those nights were very relaxing and fun until the rain arrived. Sometimes we even slept on the deck in other compartments where the air conditioning was working.

On the 18th we entered the San Bernadino Straits on a beeline for Vietnam. We arrived on November 20th and after a brief stop in DaNang, we pulled out for Cua Viet. There we loaded Marines and equipment of the 11th Marine Engineering Battalion to take to Okinawa. Those guys were going home.  I noted in my diary that during the 48 hours of operations in DaNang and Cua Viet, I had only 3 hours of sleep. Except for standing a watch, I think we all slept for the next 24 hours.

We made a side trip to Subic Bay to pick up two Mike boats and another LCU. Then it was right into the teeth of Tropical Depression Lorna. (60 mph winds and 20-25 swell waves). Watching Marines enjoy that ride is still one of the great side benefits of being in the Navy.

We spent Thanksgiving in Chin Wan Bay at Okinawa. We offloaded the Engineering Battalion and loaded up their replacements. One of those Marines was a childhood friend who had lived next door to me back home. I spent Thanksgiving standing an 8-hour anchor watch on the signal bridge, overlooking the Bay, listening to Christmas music and writing letters home. It was a quiet, relaxing day away from the daily grind and General Quarters drills. The chill of the northern latitude was especially nice.

Once underway again, this time back to Subic Bay, we started having a lot of problems. Bad weather was still an issue. While in Subic, we had issues with air conditioners, boilers, and fuel pumps. It seemed like the old ship was falling apart. When all that was “fixed,” we departed for Da Nang. Upon arriving we had a ruptured gasket in one of the boilers. We floated in place, in a combat zone for nearly 24 hours, until it got fixed. Not exactly an ideal situation.

On Christmas day, we were still on station off the coast of Da Nang when explosions started going off around us. We found out later that we had drifted into a “jettison zone” for returning fighter pilots. The next morning, I celebrated my 21st birthday. Two days later we are back in Subic where I celebrated my birthday and my 1st Anniversary. We had only been married a year but 5 months of that I was gone. It was a difficult time in that regard for sure.

The plan was to stay in Subic for a month for repairs. It was so hot that we started work two hours early and knocked off by 1530 each day to avoid the afternoon heat. Scuttlebutt started on January 13 that we may be headed home for a week, then return to Westpac. Soon the rumors were confirmed. I contacted my wife from the base phone and made arrangements for her to meet me in Long Beach.

We left Subic on January 25 for Da Nang. After loading another Battalion of Marines and all their equipment, on January 31, we hoisted the Uniform, Sierra, Alfa flags, meaning destination USA.

We were on a straight shot for Long Beach after brief stops in Subic and Guam. Nothing could stop us now. Except for Friday, February 13th. On that day, our ship collided with the USS Ponchatoula about 300 miles west of Pearl Harbor. We had some pretty bad damage to both ships but no one was seriously injured on either ship.



USS Ponchatoula Cruise Book

The next day we stopped in Pearl Harbor for repairs and a Navy investigation of how it happened. We made it back to Long Beach on Feb. 20. The next 5 days were amazing for all of us. We finally got to celebrate both of our 21st birthdays and our first anniversary.

Soon we were back at sea and headed back to Westpac. We returned to Long Beach and our families on June 25, 1970. Those last 4 months were filled with much the same routine as the first four months. We did add a major multinational beach landing near Pusan, Korea, and a couple of stops in Sasebo, Japan. During one of those stops in Sasebo, I was promoted to Quartermaster 2nd Class. After that, it was fewer watches and even fewer working parties. (A working party is when ship supplies are brought on board by forming a line of 30-50 sailors and passing the supplies up the line.)

I was to return to Vietnam in February 1971 as part of Nixon’s program to bring the troops home. We picked up another group of Marines in DaNang, sat off the coast for a week or two to make

sure that the enemy wasn’t up to something hinky. Then we started the slow trip home and helping to reacclimate the Marines into civilization. We made stops in Hong Kong, Okinawa,

and Pearl to allow them to blow off a little steam before going home. We arrived in San Diego on May 12, 1971 at 1000 hours and I was discharged from active duty at 1010.

Gerald Decker

U. S. S. Point Defiance (LSD-31)








Gerald Decker

April 1970

Showing off the new Crow. The patch on the left arm shows that I was an E-5, 2nd Class Petty Officer when this pic was taken.











Gerald at 1020 hours May 12, 1971. All that hair and beard are thanks to Admiral Zumwalt.